Federal Aviation Administration officials said they are reviewing a proposal from Boeing Co. (>> The Boeing Company) to let the 787 Dreamliner fly again, but reiterated that it won't permit the plane return to service until officials are confident safety risks over the jetliner's lithium-ion batteries have been addressed.
The agency's comments came after FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari met Friday with a delegation led by Ray Conner, chief of Boeing's commercial unit, to discuss a package of modifications to the 787's battery system that Boeing hopes will end the FAA's five-week-old grounding of the 787.
The meeting wasn't expected to produce any immediate decision, but was viewed as a pivotal step in Boeing's effort to resume flights for its flagship plane despite the inability of the company and government investigators in the U.S. and Japan to determine the root cause of two incidents last month in which the Dreamliner's batteries burned.
The FAA is "reviewing a Boeing proposal and will analyze it closely," agency spokeswoman Laura Brown said in an email. "We won't allow the 787 to return to commercial service until we're confident that any proposed solution has addressed the battery failure risks."
Boeing called the meeting "productive," but offered no details on its proposed fixes. "We are encouraged by the progress being made toward resolving the issue and returning the 787 to flight for our customers and their passengers around the world," Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said in an emailed statement.
Boeing's proposal involves a 10-point package of changes, according to government and industry officials. They include a containment box to surround the battery, venting tubes for smoke or fumes, greater spacing between the battery's cells and additional internal temperature and voltage monitoring.
Boeing has indicated it thinks the changes could be completed in time for the 787 to resume flying by mid-March, but some officials have said FAA approval and the return to service of the Dreamliner could take until at least April.
The FAA's decision holds huge stakes for Boeing and for the eight global airlines whose 787s have been idled. Boeing also has been unable to deliver dozens more already-built Dreamliners while the grounding is in effect, meaning it can't get fully paid for the jets.
Mr. Birtel said Boeing, the FAA and other authorities have "been working closely" while "teams of hundreds of experts and working this issue around the clock" to return the 787 safely to service.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been undergoing an intensive probe into what caused a battery aboard a 787 to catch fire on a Japan Airlines Co. (9201.TO) jet following a flight from Tokyo on Jan. 7. That was later followed on Jan. 16 by an All Nippon Airways Co. (ALNPY, 9202.TO) 787 that was forced to make an emergency landing during a Japanese domestic flight after a battery overheated. The FAA ordered all U.S. Dreamliners grounded, with regulators around the world quickly following suit.
-- Andy Pasztor contributed to this article.
Write to Jon Ostrower at [email protected]
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